Sunday, 20 March 2016

Fronted adverbials - but what about 'fronted adjectivals'? Panic!

When I was at secondary school we spent many hours distinguishing between what were called 'adjectival phrases' and 'adverbial phrases'. So, according to that system, if I write, 'His face downcast, the boy picked up his knife' they used to say that this described the 'boy' so it was 'adjectival'. But if I wrote, 'In an aggressive manner, the boy picked up his knife' we were told that was 'adverbial' because it modified the verb 'picked up'.

In fact, I would say that these things are 'marginal' in a lot of cases. That's to say these phrases describe both the boy and the picking up! However, in the onrush to tell us that 'fronted adverbials' are magnificent and every child should have one and it's this that makes writing 'good', we're telling children that all these phrases are not only 'adverbial' (even when they don't modify the verb) but also that they're 'better' when they're 'fronted' (i.e. in front of the verb) than when they're somewhere else - 'rear' perhaps.

In other words, - another dodgy term, implying a rule that isn't a rule, a criterion for 'good writing' that isn't a criterion for good writing, another way to get children to be nervous about writing and for some to fail.